10 Questions For Expositors – Derek Thomas

“Originally from Wales, Dr. Derek Thomas is the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. After pastoring for 17 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr Thomas returned to the USA in 1996 where, in addition to his work at the seminary, he serves as the Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.” (from First Presbyterian Church, Jackson Website)

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Today Dr Thomas kindly and thoughtfully responds to our ten questions for expositors. For some of Derek’s ministry, try here.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I can do no better than to cite those famous words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the beginning of his book, Preaching and Preachers: “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” I thoroughly concur with that assessment, both of the importance of preaching and its importance to the life and vitality of the church.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
As a student at Aberystwyth University, I was encouraged on several occasions to speak on behalf of the Christian Union at a retirement home. Then, I recall Geoff Thomas asking me to speak on a Sunday afternoon in a church a few miles outside Aberystwyth. There were three people present, one of whom was the organist who sat behind me! These were the dawning of my sense of exhilaration (and fear!) about being called spend the rest of my life as a preacher. That was thirty-five years ago and I’ve been preaching ever since.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Do I really have to answer this question? I suppose it depends on the passage. I’ve never been one to spend all week preparing sermons. Frankly, I have never understood that. Many sermons are over-cooked and lack the feeling of spontaneity. Since I’ve engaged in consecutive expository preaching pretty much the entire time and therefore the upcoming text is known on Monday morning, it is “on my mind” all week. In one sense then, sermons are “cooked” for many days but I’ve always been better when under pressure and the energy of “Saturday night fever” has more than once been a terrifying, yet rewarding experience. I suppose if I were honest, I spend two to three hours of serious, intensive study, mainly in crafting, but the application might come to me as I’m walking the dog, mulling over what this or that might mean to the dear people to whom I preach. I’ve only once changed my sermon walking up the steps to the pulpit, having conclude that what I had hatched was a “stinker”; but I have often wished that I had had the courage to do it more than once given the resulting sermon! Having said that, I tell my students (I teach a course on preaching—if that’s possible, which I often doubt) to start first thing on Monday morning!

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
Ah yes—what Haddon Robinson calls “the BIG Idea”. Yes, this is very important to me. I want folk to apply the Sunday lunch question to the children: what was the sermon about this morning? Is it possible to answer that question in any coherent form? Few congregations can handle a complex set of ideas that have little or no “connective tissue.” Some can! And that’s why we can never be dogmatic about sermonic form. It is so much about culture and congregational maturity. But all the great homileticians agree that a sermon may have many ideas but they should all emerge out of a principal or “big” idea. That’s not new, of course. You can find that in Aristotle or Cicero. I think it helps people focus after the sermon is over.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Hmm. Boy, these are hard questions! Style—that’s such a subjective thing, isn’t it. It depends on whether we mean the form of the sermon or the individual mannerism of the preacher. I find preachers who read their sermon, using lots of notes, very tedious. I want eye-contact. I equally find dispassionate sermons boring. I often think of something I once read in Robert Murray McCheyne: that a congregation will forgive you almost anything so long as they are sure that you love them. I want that to come across in a sermon, no matter how “simple” it may be. I want genuineness or in today’s jargon, “authenticity”.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
A lot less than I used to use! I have tried using my laptop for sermon preparation but taking anything printed is deadly for me. I usually have a sheet of paper about six inches by four inches on which I scribble an outline and some basic notes with my favorite fountain pen. Sometimes I write on both sides, but not always. I try not to have long quotes—if I can’t remember it or ad lib it, it will probably flop in delivery. I frequently preach with no notes at all when I’m preaching a sermon I’ve preached before in a different location. I wish I could do this on every occasion and strive to be as note free as possible.

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
My closest friends will be whispering “Derek, remember what happened at Alistair Begg’s!” in my ear, but that’s far too embarrassing to record here! To answer your question—there are so many things that come to mind. I’ve heard preachers become angry in the pulpit about everything, reflecting I think their own state of mind more than anything else. But, to be brief, the greatest peril that I face is professionalism. I have been preaching for over thirty-five years and know the mechanics of preaching. It can all become “just another sermon” to be forgotten as quickly as it was delivered. I hate that. I want to experience the thrill that God would use a worm like me to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ. Every time!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. leadership responsibilities, blogging!)
With gloves on! My time is very precious and I have to tell my students, “Do as I say and not as I do!” It requires a schedule that is kept to rigorously. Certain afternoons or mornings means “Sermon time—cannot be disturbed except for death or opera! Just kidding about the death part! And an understanding and supportive wife is absolutely essential. I am blessed beyond words to have one.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
I blogged about this recently with a friend of ours in which I mentioned the continuing effect of Geoff Thomas who was the first (consecutive) preacher I ever heard. Though I rarely hear him these days – we’re in different continents after all—I still find myself saying something, or using a particular gesture in which my wife will comment (on the way home in the car), “I see Geoff was there tonight!” It has not been books about preaching that have influenced me the most but listening to preachers. Some sermons stand out that I “hear” again and again in my mind though they were delivered decades ago. Al Martin on John 3; Sinclair Ferguson on Matthew 16; Donald MacLeod on Philippians 2. And these days, my dear friend Logon Duncan on some pretty odd Old Testament texts! We are very different in style, I think, but he constantly amazes me, being able to bring out the gospel from a text that looked as dry as dust. He has one of the best minds I know, but his preaching is straight-forward and plain—in the good puritan sense of the term.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
Apart from teaching at seminary where I encounter tomorrow generation of preachers every day, I have tried to develop the habit of being an encourager of other preachers by constantly telling them what I found of benefit in their sermons. Yes, I’ve heard some bad ones, but even the worst—if there was an attempt to point to Jesus Christ—have something in them that I want to encourage. I am encouraged here in the States about tomorrow’s preachers. There is a growing army of Calvinistic preachers whose evangelistic zeal puts me to shame. They are encouraging me more than I am encouraging them.

10 Questions For Expositors – Paul W Martin

Today Paul W. Martin kindly shares with us the latest installment of our 10 Questions for Expositors. Do take time to read his detailed and very helpful answers. Paul shepherds Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto Canada and also lectures at Toronto Baptist Seminary. Spare a thought for Paul, who along with preparing expositions every Sunday also has the daunting challenge of pastoring Tim Challies!

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching defines, drives and feeds the life of the church. “Expository exultation” establishes our vision of who God is and that feeds our delight in Him. The more we delight in Him and not the world, generally the more we live for Him moment by moment. My observation has been that churches spiritually thrive where there is a man faithfully digging deep into the Word and delivering that Truth as best as he can week by week. On the other side, I have seen many churches (even full ones) slide into spiritual decline as the preaching of the Word of God is ignored or forgotten.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was naturally quiet and avoided crowds as a young man, but I felt my soul come alive when I studied the Word. I found it nearly impossible to study Scripture privately and not start talking to someone about what I had seen there. That seemed to lead to different teaching opportunities in small groups.

Strangely, I had always thought I would be a pastor – long before my conversion. But my vision of pastoral ministry was a reflection of the bizarre activities of the liberal church circles I ran in as a boy. Once I began to teach and study the Word, I laboured hard over whether I was called to the ministry. Spurgeon’s chapter in Lectures to My Students broke this camel’s back – I could not imagine being content doing anything else other than loving God’s people through the preaching of His Word. I began to pursue opportunities to preach and the Lord’s people confirmed me in it. (That was two paragraphs!)

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
When I first entered the ministry I would spend a minimum of 15-20 hours of preparation for one sermon. Now that has been refined into something closer to 10-12; depending on the text and a host of other factors.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I find most of my sermons drive to one major point, but this has more to do with the structure of the text itself than being constrained to any one homiletic model. Rightly understood, most texts have a singular, over-arching point. If I can, I try to distill that major point into one sentence – usually something in the sermon-writing process that I cannot do until the very end. That thought/point then determines much of the introduction to the sermon and functions as the skeleton to the sermon body.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I had one of those epiphany moments in this regard while eating lunch with Geoff Thomas of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Wales. In asking him about preaching (something I think every preacher should do with other preachers!) he noted that it had taken him many years to “find his own voice.” If you have heard Geoff preach, you know that his voice is very unique to him – I could listen to him preach all day long! But I think this is perhaps the greatest battle every preacher faces. Learning to be yourself, to say things in your own words, to genuinely “connect” with your hearers – no doubt this is part of what makes men from John MacArthur to Mark Driscoll so endearing to so many. The preacher is genuine and he seems to give you himself as he gives you the Word. In the category of things to avoid, besides the obvious “don’t jingle loose change in your pockets,” or “don’t read your manuscript” I would add: Don’t be content with “sleepers.” I cannot understand a preacher that tolerates disinterest in the Word of God. It is the Truth! We ought to do all that we humanly can to make that Truth alive to sinner and saint alike!

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I carry a handwritten manuscript into the pulpit. I find by using the pen and not the keyboard that I can shape things on the page to reflect their place in the sermon. I experimented with a typed manuscript (full and partial) last year for six months. I thought it took away from my freedom so I reverted to the old-school method! I strive for liberty in the pulpit and there is something about handwritten notes that makes this easier to attain.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
All the horrible heart sins of pride, envy, bitterness and jealousy. Those can birth themselves in many different ways depending on the man and the areas in which he is prone to sin. I find envy an area I have to battle more and more. I may hear of the Lord growing a work of a man who’s preaching does little for me, or who’s theology is suspect in some large ways and it bugs me. Such pride! I am praying for more of Paul’s heart as seen in Philippians 1:18 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” I think most of us preachers are prone to think far too much of ourselves. Then again, maybe it is just me.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
“Fight to balance” rather answers the question, doesn’t it? It really is a fight. On a practical level, I give priority to study. That is what I am called to do and that is what my little flock expects out of me week by week. I need to be in the Word for most of Tuesday and then I can come at it through the week again as it simmers in the back of my brain. I write the actual sermons on Friday which allows another full day for thoughts to percolate before sermon delivery. We also have many able and gifted men in our church leadership, so our deacons and my co-elder all take up many different duties.

Finally, I try to learn my limitations and the limitations of my family. If I was single I would more than likely work 22 hours a day – but that is not good for a marriage or children and I am so incredibly grateful God blessed me with both! With four kids at home still, I am happy to invest much time into their lives now.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
• George Whitefield for calling sinners to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus, and for the freedom to “colourize” the Truth with illustration and story.
• Dr. Lloyd-Jones for modeling how a text must press on the hearer’s conscience.
• John MacArthur for book-by-book exposition and the willingness to keep at it when everyone else seems to jump over to more “pragmatic” means.
• C.J. Mahaney for careful and thoughtful application of the text.
• Alex Montoya for preaching with passion.
• Michael Haykin for wedding historical fact to living truth.
• And my favorite living preacher, Bob Hueni; also my father-in-law. A man who never had the blessing of seminary training but stayed true to the text, preached it with passion, lived it in his life, read it daily, illustrated it creatively, prayed it privately, exhorted with it publicly and gazed from it with piercing eyes from the pulpit right down into your soul. Years and other duties keep him from preaching from the pulpit now – but he still preaches with his life daily.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I teach pastoral theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary which means I am always around young preachers. Many of my students attend my church and I meet with them weekly in a small group aimed to work on their sanctification and preaching skills. Each man takes a turn to teach us for 5 minutes and then we all say what we liked about it… and maybe one or two suggestions for improvement. I have always had little groups like this running. Stuart Olyott once said that there is little point in this kind of group unless you allow them to critique you as well, so I try to invite their ideas about my preaching, too. (That tends to help on that envy and pride thing I was talking about earlier!) I also keep an eye on the future men in our church. We try to identify possible future preachers early and give them age-appropriate opportunities to try that possible gift.

Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Peter Grainger
* Derek Prime
* John Brand
* Steve Cole
* A young Scottish expositor!

10 Questions For Expositors – Steve Cole

Its our great priviledge today to have Steve Cole of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship answer our 10 Questions for Expositors.

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By the way, if you happen to personally know any other relatively well known expositors who have not yet filled in the 10 Questions, could you help me twist their arm – ‘in a sanctified way’ – to answers the questions and have them send them my direction? The likes of Dever, MacArthur, Piper, Begg, Lawson and Mahaney would be especially welcome! For us ‘less-gifted’ preachers in the kingdom… Colin

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching is very important, in that it elevates the authority of God over the entire congregation. It sets the tone and agenda for the church. If people do not honor God’s Word, they will not grow and the church will be tossed around by every wind of doctrine. And there are plenty of strong winds blowing these days!

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
When I was in college, I tried teaching the Bible and found, much to my surprise, people seemed really to be helped by it. I never actually preached to any extent, though, before I began in the pastorate 30 years ago.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I manuscript all of my sermons, which are available for people to pick up as they walk into church. I also post them on our web site. To do this level of teaching/preaching takes me about 15 hours per week. Some weeks it takes longer if it is a difficult text or if the sermon just doesn’t flow together. On a few rare weeks, it flows together much more quickly. But usually I have to sweat and agonize through the entire process.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?
Yes, I sat under Haddon Robinson at Dallas Seminary, and if you are familiar with his method, he teaches that every sermon must succinctly drive home one major idea. Crystallizing this idea is the hard work of preaching. But I find if I’m not clear about it, I probably don’t understand the text as well as I need to. Sometimes in the middle of preparing the sermon, I realize that I am still not clear, so I go back and rework it. The main idea governs the entire sermon outline, with all of the points supporting or explaining that one idea.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He must be authentic (i.e, not copying someone else’s style). He must not preach what he is not attempting to practice, and he must not falsely imply or convey that he is living a certain way if it is not true. In other words, if I’m struggling with my prayer life, I need to let people know that it’s a struggle, not convey that I’m a great prayer warrior.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I take my full manuscript into the pulpit, with key words highlighted or underlined with a colored pen. But I do not read it. I glance down at each paragraph and due to having written it and editing it several times and going over it several more before the sermon, I pretty much know where I’m going. The only part I read are quotations.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
We must avoid neglecting our own walk with the Lord and just preaching as a performance. In other words (1 Tim. 4:16), “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.” Your preaching must flow out of a genuine, fresh walk with Christ. And I am continually overwhelmed with a sense of my own inadequacy, both in the preparation and delivery of sermons. But that keeps me dependent on the Lord (2 Cor. 3:5).

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
It’s always a struggle, but the church knows that my preaching preparation time is important and they leave me alone (for the most part) unless there is an emergency or crisis. I am not a strong visitation pastor, in the sense of Richard Baxter. I admire the man, but I could never come close to his routine.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Haddon Robinson’s “Biblical Preaching” consists of his classroom lectures, which were my training. I don’t follow him to a tee, but he helps you be clear about the process. I found T. H. L. Parker’s “Calvin’s Preaching” to be very helpful. As far as examples, I really enjoy John Piper’s preaching. I also have read many of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons, as well as his book on preaching. While I don’t follow his style very closely, I have benefitted immensely from his careful analysis of Scripture.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I don’t have any set of “steps” that I follow. I have often met with small groups of young men who are interested in the things of God, discussing various aspects of ministry. We have read books like J. I. Packer’s “A Quest for Godliness,” about the Puritans. Also, they have my weekly example of Bible exposition, and often we have discussed a recent sermon. I often share with them the struggle I’m having with a text or putting a message together, and we interact on it. Sometimes I will help them if they are preparing a sermon. Many of these young men have gone on to seminary and into ministry.

Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Peter Grainger
* Derek Prime
* John Brand
* A young Scottish expositor!

10 Questions For Expositors – John Brand

John Brand is currently the Vice Principal of Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh and has previously served with AIM International. He has also served as a pastor. John ‘blogs’ on preaching over at A Steward of the Secret Things and today we are priviledged to put our 10 Questions to him.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I am utterly and increasingly convinced it has to be the heartbeat and central focus. There are many hallmarks of a true church and many things churches should be doing but none more vital and strategic than the faithful preaching of the Word of God.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was born into a Manse, the son and grandson of missionary preachers, and I think to start with it was almost a natural ting to do – to try my hand at preaching. My father’s church – who were not, it has to said, the most discerning of folk – gave me opportunity in my mid-teens and I was encouraged to persevere as well as sensing a growing burden and joy in my own spirit for this great work.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
To be honest, it takes me longer now than when I started out more than 30 years ago and in the Lords goodness I think that is partly because I take the responsibility much more seriously now than at any other time in my life. I guess these day it takes me anywhere between 12 and 15 hours on average.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I wish I had realised the importance of this in my early days of preaching because I have come to realise how vital this issue is for effective communication. There is a tendency, especially when you are younger, to try and cram too much into one sermon and generally speaking, not only can most folk not cope with that but it can so easily blur the God-intended focus of the passage. In some way I find this the hardest and often most time-consuming aspect of preparation and yet you can’t move forward until you have identified it. For me, I just try writing out ‘the big idea’ again and again and again; restating it until I feel I am doing justice to the Scripture I am working.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Firstly, it is vital that we are truly ourselves in the pulpit and not try to be somebody or something we are not. Affected tones of voice and imitation of others is for the stage and not the pulpit. Sincerity and integrity are key. Two other vital ingredients for me are earnestness and passion. We live in a day and age of all too often lifeless, take-it-or-leave-it preaching and it’s inconsistent with the message we preach or the one in whose name we claim to speak.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
These days, my notes are much fuller than they used to be, though I have gone through different stages in my ministry. It varies too depending on the nature of the sermon. A more closely reasoned exposition, working through the logic of a passage, for example, will demand more notes than a study in one of the parables. For me, it’s not so much the quantity of the notes but the familiarity with the text and notes and though my notes are fuller I probably refer to them less than I used to.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
I have already referred to things like affectation. We must also studiously avoid disclosing confidences, even by allusion. We must avoid ‘showing off’ the work done in preparation. Perhaps the greatest sin to avoid is saying any less or any more than the text we are preaching says.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
In recent years this has been a special challenge for me, heading up a Mission agency, rather than in church-based pastoral ministry. However, I always sought to guard preparation time and it has, thankfully, been in my Job Description. It’s really a case of identifying and protecting priorities. I have had to ring fence time slots and tell my colleagues that I am unavailable except in emergencies. It has been particularly hard with the huge amounts of travelling that I have been doing, but journeys can be useful times for reading and reflection which are vital parts of the preparation process.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
During my student days I read through Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans and Ephesians and, albeit largely unconsciously, imbibed a commitment to systematic, verse by verse exposition, though not at the same level of detail as the Doctor! Sinclair Ferguson taught and modelled homiletics as well as systematic theology and made a monumental impact on my life and, humanly speaking, I owe him a unique debt. Book-wise, in more recent years Bryan Chapell’s ‘Christ-centred Preaching’ made a massive impression on me as did John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in preaching’. Both should be compulsory reading for all preachers.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
This has always been a joyful privilege and responsibility for me. In my first pastorate I gather a group of 3 men and we met on a monthly basis to encourage one another and I gave them regular opportunities to cut their preaching teeth and try and help them. In my role with Aim International nothing has give me more joy than my annual Preachers’ Workshops with the leaders of our partner Church in Sudan. This autumn, in my home Church, Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, I am involved in a monthly seminar for preachers and would-be preachers and in my new role on the staff of the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh, one of my remits will be homiletics. I count it a real privilege to have these opportunities to encourage others.
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For some John Brand sermons, click here.

Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Peter Grainger
* Derek Prime
* A young expositor!

10 Questions For Expositors – Derek Prime

Derek Prime was the senior pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh from 1969 – 1986. He is known more widely both for his preaching and writing, and closer to home for his gracious and wise pastoral heart. In case you haven’t read it, “On Being A Pastor” which he co-wrote with his previous assistant Alistair Begg is a must have.

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I would place it unequivocally as number one priority because it is the primary means of bringing people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then building them up in Him.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Soon after my conversion in my early teens it was my turn to speak in a small young people’s group in the church fellowship to which I belonged. It so ‘happened’ that the pastor was present that evening and at the conclusion of the meeting he spoke to me in such a way that the secret thoughts and convictions I had had about wanting to serve God as a pastor/teacher were encouraged and confirmed. My Bible Class teacher soon after took me with him when he conducted services as a lay-preacher, encouraging me first to take part in some small way and then to preach. From that introduction an increasing number of invitations came to me to speak and preach.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I find it difficult to answer this in terms of even an average amount. Much depends on time available and the familiarity I have with the passage. When I have the time, I would aim to spend a morning ideally of three and a half hours looking at the text/passage in its context and jotting down possible approaches. Then the next morning I would choose the simplest and most straightforward and type the sermon out in full.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I would not wish to be dogmatic about this because the text or passage should determine whether there is one or more major theme or idea. It is important, however, to remember that our hearers do not have the benefit of our study time and if there is a major theme or idea in the text/passage then the sermon should accurately reflect this.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I think I would say simplicity. Only yesterday I finished reading a biography of J. C. Ryle entitled That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child by Eric Russell. He tells of how an old lady went out of her way to hear Bishop Ryle preach. After the service she told a friend that she had been very disappointed. “I never heard a Bishop,” she said, “I thought I’d hear something great. He’s nowt. He’s no Bishop. I could understand every word.” When Ryle heard the story, he said it was the greatest compliment he had ever had paid to his preaching. The better we understand what we saying the simpler we should be. It is no credit to us if people remark on how clever we are.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use full notes, although I highlight with a marker the principal phrase or word in each paragraph and that is usually sufficient to quicken my memory and to give me freedom to preach without slavish dependence on them.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Failure to relate every Scripture to the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross in God’s revelation

Pride – unconsciously perhaps seeing preaching as a means of gaining praise for oneself rather than seeking the praise and honour of God and His Son

Failing to feed the flock – forgetting the Lord Jesus’ words, ‘Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep.’

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
There is no easy answer but the emphasis must be upon self-discipline. For example, reserving mornings for study and preparation, the determination of priorities in pastoral care and not allowing pastoral care to be separated from the task of preaching in that our calling is to be pastors and teachers.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
One of the early books I read on preaching – if not the first – was James Black’s The Mystery of Preaching and it probably made the greatest impression upon me. James Stewart’s two books on the subject were a help also. The two exemplars when I began my ministry were John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, very different in style and both conspicuous for their evangelical witness and faithfulness to the Scriptures.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I probably would not have phrased the question like this! Any influence I have had in this area has been through God’s providence. In both churches of which I was pastor I had a series of preaching and teaching classes to encourage and to discover spiritual gift. Having been encouraged myself by two men in particular when I was young, I have felt bound to try and repay my debt by encouraging potential pastor/teachers and those in their early years of ministry. The initiative has not always been with me but over the last eighteen years or more I have met on both a regular and occasional basis with a number of men. Finally, as I reflect on it, the privilege of having pastor’s assistants in both churches – probably a total of fourteen men – provided the greatest unconscious opportunity to encourage future preachers.

Over at Steward Of Secret Things, some of Derek’s Recommended Books
For more of Derek’s books, try here.

10 Questions For Expositors – Peter Grainger

I truly count it an honour to work with a man who has exposited the bible for over forty years. That man is Peter Grainger, the senior pastor of Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh. Prior to his fifteen years and counting (!) at the Chapel, he and his wife Nita worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators, with stints in India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Further to this, Peter pastored a church in Swindon. Today, Peter very kindly joins the ranks of respondees to our “Ten Questions for Expositors.”

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
The preaching of God’s Word is at the heart of all that we do for through it, however imperfectly, we hear God speak and (at the risk of over-simplification) all that we do in the life of a church is a response to this

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all Methodist local preachers. As a teenager, I accompanied my father to the churches where he spoke and began by reading the Scriptures for him, singing (!), then leading and finally attempting to preach (around the age of 16).

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Depending on the difficulty of the passage and my familiarity with it, between 15-25 hours.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I would usually look for a major theme and crystallize it with the title and the opening illustration which introduces that theme. I often try to conclude by returning to the illustration and theme to conclude the point.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Be yourself – don’t try to imitate others.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I write full notes and thoroughly familiarise myself with them. When preaching I refer to them and follow the planned structure but don’t read from them.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
The lure of popularity (being too worried what people might think) and complacency (not recognising that only the Spirit can bring about any lasting change).

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
With great difficulty! Delegating to other members/staff non-preaching activities but at the same time earthing preaching in regular pastoral care with real people and their situations.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
I have read many of the usual books on preaching. I have benefited from listening to good preachers over the years (I try not to be away preaching elsewhere whenever someone else in the pulpit) and the Proclamation Trust and Evangelical Ministry Assembly has been a source of inspiration/reassurance since I attended it from its inception.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
Not enough! Training and encouraging younger preachers is one of the things I want to do but gets regularly squeezed out by other demands. I have been encouraged by seeing younger colleagues grow and develop in their preaching gifts and go on to serve in other places. One of the problems in a church like ours is that it is a daunting experience to put a potential preacher in front of a “critical” congregation of 800 people. There are not so many of the smaller fellowships in which a young preacher could cut his teeth around today.

10 Questions For Expositors – Conrad Mbewe

By popular demand, Ten Questions for Expositors is back. This time we have the great pleasure of interviewing Conrad Mbewe, pastor-teacher Katwaba Baptist Church, Zambia. If you haven’t yet heard this brother preach, do take the opportunity. Then be amazed that he takes two to three hours to prepare his sermons!

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
As far as I can see from the Word of God, preaching must be central to the life of the church. This can be seen from the way the church started in the New Testament. As soon as the first church was gathered together in Acts 2, the Bible records that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Clearly, then, the preaching of the apostles took the first place. We notice the same thing when Paul writes to Timothy, a young pastor leading the church in Ephesus. He says to him, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). And even as he comes to the end of his life, Paul gives this young pastor the following charge: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Surely, when you compare this to the emphasis today on singing, as opposed to hearing the Word of God being preached, we have certainly left the biblical emphasis and we need to get back to it – for the sake of the health of our churches.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
Initially, soon after I became a Christian in 1979, I just had a burden to share Christ in personal witnessing contexts with individuals. I did not realise that this burden would one day find expression in preaching to entire crowds. At that time I was a student at a local university in Zambia. From time to time, I would be asked to prepare the Bible study lesson and teach our Growth Group in our hall of residence. These were small groups of Christian students who got together once a week to study the Bible. I found that I could handle the text and draw out appropriate lessons. In due season, around 1982, one of the elders at church asked me to join him in leading the Bible study group that comprised the young adults in the church, especially those who were in college and university. In this period, I sharpened my skills further. Before I graduated in 1984, however, I was chosen as chairman of the university Christian fellowship, and that meant preaching at least once a semester. This was for the last two years of my undergraduate days. I found great fulfilment not only in teaching the Word of God but also preaching it. It was clear from the feedback that I was getting, that God had gifted me in this way. This was quite apart from a sense of call that I experienced in a very definite way at a very subjective level sometime in 1980. So, by the time I graduated from the university, my gifts in preaching were confirmed, and I was just waiting for the Lord to open a door into full time pastoral studies or full time pastoral work. In 1987, the Lord opened the latter door and I became a church pastor.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
It takes anything between two to three hours, depending on how familiar I am with the subject or the text. Because I usually preach in a consecutive expository fashion in my own pulpit, most of the initial spade work would have been done much earlier. Hence, that is not included in this time. Also, I rarely ever write out my sermons in full. My final sermon outline is hardly ever more than one page long. So, again, you have to cut out the average writing time that most pastors go through. That is why I do not spend as much time in sermon preparation as most of my fellow preachers.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
It is very important. I go before God’s people with “a word from the Lord” and it is important to me that they go home after listening to my preaching with that word – or theme or idea. I ensure that my introduction waters their appetite for that one “word” and that my conclusion nails it in with some immediate application. They have not come to simply be informed about some points of doctrine. They have come to be told (or I have come to tell them) what God wants them to do in the light of his message to them. How do I arrive at that dominant thought, when mine is a textual sermon? The answer lies in a lot of meditation. I meditate and meditate and meditate. On a more technical level, I look at the text in its context. I also look at the key word(s) in the text. As I pray about all this, it soon becomes clear to me what the dominant thought in the text is. Also, depending on the composition of my congregation, I may opt to deal with the dominant thought differently. I do not change the theme; I just change its emphasis so that it suits my hearers. The rest of my work is to show how the rest of the passage brings out the dominant thought. It is in following the natural contours of the Scriptures that I seek to crystallise the theme in the minds of my hearers.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I would say, of prime importance, that a preacher must be himself. This is what makes for a preacher’s style. You notice it from the writings of the apostles. You cannot miss when it is Paul writing – or Peter or James or John. They all have their own specific style. Avoid imitation like a plague. You end up being a David trying to fight in Saul’s armour. You will fail. That is not to say that you cannot learn from other preachers. We all must seek to improve our preaching by listening to those preachers who have the greatest impact on their hearers. We must ask the question, “How do they manage to attain and maintain the attention of their hearers to the very end of their sermons?” Take the principle that you see from that and then apply it to your style so that in the end you are still yourself.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I have already touched on this. I normally carry with me one side of an A4 sized paper when I enter the pulpit to preach. On this matter, I think that everyone must use what they are most comfortable with. It is difficult to draw from the Scriptures any rule as to the amount of notes you should carry into the pulpit. I think that whatever the quantity of notes, a preacher must maintain a maximum level of eye-contact with his hearers. My notes are simply “sign posts” along the way. Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I do not even look at them because the road is very familiar. Sometimes I just peep there to make sure that I have taken the right turns thus far. I find that when I am very dependent on my notes, then the message is not flowing thematically, logically or chronologically. So, I work on it further until I can sense that once I have opened up a point, the sub-points naturally flow one after the other. Hence my dependence on my notes is minimal.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Familiarity and prayerlessness. I have preached for (only) twenty years and I sense the temptation to handle the work of preaching as “just one of those things”. Yet I am aware that these two vices will cost me the presence of God in preaching and I will soon become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. May I add the temptation to use the Bible to say what you already started out wanting to say? This is especially the case when you have a personal agenda to fulfil in the lives of a few troublesome church members. Once your hearers begin to think that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say, you are robbing them of the respect they ought to have for God’s Word. So, for the sake of posterity, be faithful to the text!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
At one time the elders in my church noticed that the quality of my preaching was becoming unpredictable – one time it was good, and the next time it was bad. They asked me what the problem was and I told them that I needed an office assistant to take care of most of the administrative needs in the life of the church. I was given someone to handle this, and since then we have never looked back. Every week, we meet with my office assistant to look at what needs to be done that week and then we share the load. I only take on that which I know I really must handle. Another thing is that I make the early hours of the morning, before the family wakes up and the phone starts ringing, as the time for study and devotions. Thus by the time the house is bustling with humans and those disturbing phone calls start, I am simply musing over what I have learnt and prepared. I also function within an eldership that is involved in pastoral care. Hence, although our church has over 300 members, I do not feel the strain of that number. The elders share in the work of pastoral care.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
The sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon come immediately to mind. In the early years of my Christian life, I used to preach some of them out to an empty church building. Well, it was not completely empty because I had a few of my friends sitting in the pews, but it was not a worship service either. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Evangelistic Sermons and his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (both published by the Banner of Truth Trust) are great examples of evangelistic preaching. One can add to this his expositions in Romans and Ephesians. Those sermons are worth their weight in gold! You will notice, therefore, that I have learnt more from books that contain sermons rather than books that teach how to preach.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
The first is to be the best example I can be to them so that they can model their preaching after a worthy example. I do not want them to become little “Conrads” but I sincerely hope that they will take what they see in me and build on it according to their own styles and giftedness. The second is to give any men in the church who exhibit the rudiments of the preaching or teaching gifts opportunities to minister in the context of the church’s full life. This may mean they can prepare for and lead Bible studies, or they may preach in one of the many auxiliary meetings of the church, or they may preach in one of the church-planting situations that we have on our hands. I then listen to their sermons and give them the necessary feedback so that they deal with their areas of weakness. Those that are able are also encouraged to join our part-time preachers’ college. In that context, we give them a full-orbed introduction to what it takes to be a preacher of the gospel as a full-time vocation. Even those who are not able to join the college are encouraged to read books on preaching as soon as they share with me that they are sensing a call to the preaching ministry.

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Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Colin Adams

10 Questions for Expositors – Thabiti Anyabwile

It has been a real joy thus far to share “Ten Questions for Expositors” with you. Today we take time out with Thabiti Anyabwile.

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Following his conversion (read “From Mecca to Calvary”), Thabiti served with Capitol Hill Baptist Church before moving to pastor First Baptist Church Grand Cayman. He has recently authored the book “The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors” and regularly updates his excellent blog Pure Church.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I would rank preaching Christ and Him crucified as the most important commitment of the ministry. Everything else builds upon the exposition of God’s Word. Giving attention to God’s Word in the public gathering of the church is the main activity. It’s where the people of God are most explicitly and perhaps intentionally shaped or formatively disciplined into the maturity of Christ.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was asked to speak at a “youth day” event at a church in my home town. I thought it was going to be an event after the morning service with 20-30 teenagers in the church basement. When I arrived, I found out that I was the guest preacher for the morning service! I tweaked my planned talk from John 4 and did the best I could. A little lady came up to me afterwards and asked, “Where are you in your walk?” I had no idea what she meant and mumbled something like “I’m trying to grow in the Lord.” She clarified: “No… I think you may be called to the ministry.” I put that behind me thinking she meant well but was probably a bit overly enthusiastic. Soon after, a number of people began commenting in much the same way this little lady had, expressing appreciation for what they regarded as speaking gifts whenever I would lead a Bible study, small group, or some other address. So, it was through the saints that those gifts became evident to me.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Currently, I devote two full days to sermon preparation—Thursday and Friday. I’ll generally spend about twenty hours over those two days and a few hours through the week reading the text and making notes.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I think the sermon should contain the major themes or points of the text being considered. I learned from Mark Dever (though he is not to be blamedJ) to preach texts of varying lengths… sometimes a few verses, sometimes a chapter, sometimes a couple of chapters. When you do that, different things emerge for the preacher and the audience. The unity and flow of an argument, connections between themes and ideas all come into focus in various ways. Sometimes that lends itself to a sermon with one major theme or idea; sometimes it suggests a couple of major ideas for a sermon. I’d rather the number of themes or ideas from the text to determine the structure of my sermon than my “sermon framework/approach” to drive the number of themes or ideas I focus on in a text.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
I think it’s probably most important that a preacher be himself… whatever that means stylistically. Piper is Piper; MacArthur is MacArthur; Stott is Stott; Lloyd-Jones was Lloyd-Jones. I suppose Thabiti is Thabiti, though as a young preacher I’m still trying to figure out what that means. A man should be comfortable in his own skin as he preaches. Was it Lloyd-Jones who referred to preaching as “personality on fire.” That strikes me as right. Be ablaze with God’s truth and trust that the Lord means to mediate that truth, in part, through the distinctive ways He has shaped you in personality. Next to that, I think probably plainness is important. Having said that, though, I think the thing to be avoided is making your personality (humor, etc.) the core of your preaching. One can be all style and no substance. And there is the terribly frightening prospect of building an audience on a man’s personality, even creating a cult of personality and celebrity. That must be one of the most grotesque things to be avoided: preaching yourself while you should be lifting up the Savior.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I take a full manuscript into the pulpit. I’ll probably deliver 85% of it. I think I’m a better preacher from an outline or extemporaneously, but as a young preacher I write a full manuscript. I do this because I’m concerned about two things: 1) I want to be theologically more precise in my preaching, perhaps more precise than I would be without a manuscript. There is probably some insecurity here that grows out of the fact that I’m not seminary trained and as a former muslim (having been in such gross theological error during that time) I am “hyper” about theological accuracy. 2) Some of the most influential and prominent men in the history of the African American church left almost no record of their preaching ministries. That’s a great tragedy. I don’t think my sermons will be remembered as anything spectacular, but I do want to leave something that helps fill this void.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
McCheyne is right, I think, when he says, “My people have no greater need than my own holiness.” So, a failure to live a holy life is peril that must be avoided. Related to that: laziness; unfaithfulness; failure to watch his life and doctrine; and, a failure to watch over the sheep entrusted to his care. A man can mask a multitude of deficiencies and sins with a strong public preaching gift. If he takes that wide road it will lead to the destruction of his ministry, and to great harm among the sheep. So let us not leave off holiness and integrity.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I’m blessed with a wonderful administrative assistant who protects my time really well. We maintain a basic plan to the week that intends some measure of balance, but we’re always tweaking it. Mondays are days that are largely wide open for scheduling appointments of various sorts (counselling, visitation, etc.). This, for me, has been a good transition from the Lord’s Day activities into the routine for the week. Tuesdays are reserved for reading and writing, a lot of which is in response to questions/needs in the congregation. Some Tuesday nights feature elders’ meetings. Wednesday mornings I prepare for Wednesday night Bible study. Wednesday afternoon are usually filled with staff meeting, service planning meeting, and other counselling appointments and misc. meetings. Thursday and Friday are sermon preparation. I try to have the sermon finished by 5:00pm on Friday so I can have time Friday evening and Saturday with the family. Thus far, the schedule has worked well for me. It means I have to say “no” to some things (especially a lot of evening meetings) and keep first things first. It doesn’t always work this way, but that’s the general approach.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
The first book I ever read on preaching is still my favourite: Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. I also appreciate Edmund Clowney’s work, Preaching and Biblical Theology and Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. As examples go, I love reading Lloyd-Jones. My soul is positively strengthened when I listen to Piper. I could listen to Sinclair Ferguson all day. Mark Dever probably engages me intellectually more than anyone I can think of right now. Mark’s approach to application has been particularly helpful.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
Currently, I try to devote the church’s Sunday evening services to helping men discern and develop their gifts in preaching. I usually send them a short review of the sermon the next day, noting things I appreciated, asking questions or prompting them to think further about some point or another. Usually, though, I’m simply trying to encourage them in their preaching. Beyond this, I’m meeting with a couple of men and reading through good books on theology or the ministry, and suggesting various other resources like the 9Marks website or some of the preachers listed above.

Previously
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts

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Workman’s Toolbox
* Some x-ray questions from David Pawlinson via Justin Buzzard.
* This looks worthwhile to have on your study shelf
* titus2talk is recommending Christian biographies
* Abraham Piper with 12 ways to love your child
* Entire Lloyd Jones Romans series for sale.
* John Brand is debating whether preaching is caught or taught?
* Tomb of Herod the great find?
* Speaking of Thabiti Anyabwile, he’s thanking God for CJ Mahaney.
* Mohler vs Piper on Singleness
* Tim Challies is live blogging the Basics Conference, including Voddie Baucham’s session on Preaching to Postmoderns.
* Every pastor is called to be a Theologian
* Fighting lust with lust?

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Unashamed Workman homepage

10 Questions For Expositors – Vaughan Roberts

I’m delighted today to interview Vaughan Roberts. Vaughan is the Rector of St Ebbes Church in Oxford, a growing evangelical, church planting congregation with an Anglican heritage. As well as a respected bible teacher in the UK, Vaughan has blessed the church with his writings, authoring such books as Turning Points, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story Line of the Bible, True Worship, and his latest offering Battles Christians Face.

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching is central. Christ gathers his church and rules it through his word. The preaching of his word must therefore be the focal point of our congregational gatherings if Christ is to be at the centre. That should in turn equip all God’s people for their ‘works of ministry’ so that the church is built up (Ephesians 4:12). Faithful preaching should act as a catalyst which leads to all church members serving one another and reaching the world.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I never really wanted to do anything but be a pastor-teacher after I was converted in my later teens but, being very shy at the time, I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would think I could do it. Helping at camps for teenagers gave me opportunities to give short bible talks. That led to more invitations and encouragement from people I respected that I did have some embryonic preaching gifts.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
About 12 hours. Early sermons in a new series on a less familiar book can take a few hours longer.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
It’s certainly important that the sermon should have an aim. It needs to have a clear sense of direction and of what it intends to communicate. That is not a single point that’s chosen arbitrarily from a number of different points that could be made from the passage; it should rather be driven by the thrust of the text itself. I try to follow Charles Simeon’s goal: ‘my endeavour is to bring out of scripture what is there and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head: never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the spirit in the passage I’m expounding’.

In the back of my mind I tend to ask questions such as: ‘why is the passage here? What does the writer intend to communicate through it? What is the question it’s answering? How would the writer summarise that answer in just a few words?’ That helps to ensure the message I prepare is shaped by scripture and not imposed upon it.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
If preaching is ‘truth mediated through personality’, the preacher should be himself – seeking to use his personality and gifts, not to draw attention to himself, but to be God’s messenger. The preachers God uses vary greatly in style because they are very different as people. It’s a big mistake to try to be someone we’re not.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
Fairly full notes (except for evangelistic talks when I tend to use much less).

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
They will vary from person to person and from time to time. At the moment my biggest danger is taking on too much and drifting into a spiritually dull ‘professionalism’ as a preacher. I need to preserve the freshness of my own walk with Christ if my preaching is to remain fresh.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I try to stick to a routine as much as possible – certain mornings for preparation; afternoons and evenings for meetings with individuals/committees etc. I prepare sermons at home and have a separate office for administration and meetings at church which helps.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
John Stott’s ‘I believe in preaching’ was the first book I read on the subject and I still go back to it. John Stott, Dick Lucas, Roy Clements and Jonathan Fletcher were influential models when I first began preaching.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
We have a number of apprentices on our staff team who are considering the possibility of gospel ministry in the future. I also run a ‘Simeons’ preaching course at church. I invite younger men who may have potential as preachers to join me for six sessions a year (over two years). We fix them up with opportunities to preach in a local church and I will talk through their sermon with them before and after.

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Previously
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher

I’m hoping to have more 10 Questions in the near future, pending busy preachers getting back to me!

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Links to this post
Justin Taylor
Buzzard Blog
Pastorblog

10 Questions for Expositors – Liam Goligher

I’m hoping that those of you from the ‘other side’ of the pond might appreciate hearing from UK expositors too. One of the best-known on British shores is Dr Liam Goligher, pastor of Duke Street Church Richmond upon Thames. Liam not only preaches consecutively in his own church but is a regular conference speaker at the likes of the Keswick Convention and The London Men’s Convention . He is also author of The Jesus Gospel – Recovering the Lost Message. With great pleasure, I give you Liam’s thought provoking responses to our ten questions.

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

I think it would impossible for me to exaggerate the importance of preaching to the life and health of a church. It lies at the heart of corporate worship where the united life of a congregation finds it expression. There, in symbol and in fact, the people of God are gathered, guided and governed by the Word of God. the word preached is the public statement of the truth by which the church lives and through which it aims to reach the world for Christ. The Word preached should begin to ‘spawn’ the varied ministries of the church, and is therefore the source of its vitality. It should enlarge people’s hearts for the lost and for one another. The preaching ministry is primary in a church that takes everyone’s ministry seriously.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

About the age of 12 I felt a great desire to preach the gospel. I started to read theology and to prepare short talks which I practiced aloud in the fields behind our house. I made a real impression on the cows I remember! Well from the age of 15 I started preaching to real people. I took on every kind of speaking engagement that came my way. I went into the weirdest contexts and spoke for anything from 5 minutes to 50 minutes. I mostly preached badly but I told myself, ‘there’s always next time!’ and I kept at it. I still preach badly but believe that I’ll do better next time. I believe you learn to preach by preaching. I’m still learning. The lesson I’ve learned is that call to preach stems from inward constraint and the confirmation of the church.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

I take more time now than I ever did. In my first church (when I was 22) I had four sermons a week to prepare plus do all the visiting. So I spent 12 hours each on the Sunday one’s and ‘got by’ on the mid-week ones. As we have built up a staff and developed a radio and conference ministry it has become more important to spend more time in the word. I am privileged to belong to a church that sees this as the Minister’s priority calling. So I give about 20 hours to each sermon. I try to take Saturday mostly off (though some of Saturday evening is spent making a final revision of the sermon and preparing myself for Sunday).

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

The think the ‘Big Idea’ idea is a good idea so long as it doesn’t become the touchstone of orthodoxy. It is important to remember that as we approach a text we are approaching it with a pedagogical intent, that is, we want to teach people from it. So we should let the text dictate how many ideas are in it. Our job is to extract them and order them in such a way that people can look at it when we are finished and say, ‘yes that definitely came out of the text!’ there may be a number of ideas in a given text and our job is to see what holds them or links them together then express that in a sentence.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

It takes us years usually but in the end we need to find ourselves! Early on my style tended to be driven by the person who had impressed me last! So I had a Lloyd-Jones phase, a Eric Alexander phase and so on. Somewhere in my 30’s I found myself and I believe my preaching started improving from that point on. My worry is that as some people are being taught preaching today they are adopting a ‘house style,’ usually indicating who their major influences were. This is good so long as they get over it and are not crippled by expectations to conform to a style that isn’t them. My personal heroes of today have vastly different styles and I love them all.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I started with the back of a borrowed cigarette box! I graduated to two sides of A5, then developed in the middle part of my ministry to 8 small hand written pages. I now type 13 pages of printed A5. My manuscript is now fuller than ever, highly colored (though I lost what the codes were meant to mean long ago I’m afraid).

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

Perhaps the greatest dangers are professionalism and laziness. By professionalism I mean that we prepare sermons for other people without ever preaching them to ourselves first. I think that must be the reason some of us slip into sin. I think the other danger is ministerial laziness. I get lazy about reading – when I just do my sermon prep and no longer push myself to read the new books of theology or church history that have appeared, when I don’t keep up my languages. I get lazy in my preparation when I rush to the best websites to read what this or that one has written or better, preached on this passage. We must continue to do the spade work on the text throughout all of our ministries, it is this that builds up our own faith in the bible and which yields the best fruit for ourselves and the people of God.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

In my early pastorates I would work in the study in the mornings and on two afternoons a week, and then visit morning and evening. Now my preaching preparation gets the priority in my time and freshness. So I work from early morning till mid afternoon in the study most days. I hold staff meetings and make appointments to see people from 3 or 4pm onwards into the evenings. I try to read the bible with a couple of people on a regular basis

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

In my teenage years when preaching was becoming a passion for me I lacked guidance in my reading. By the time I was 14 I was a convinced Calvinist and knew no-one in my circle of acquaintance that held that view. So I had to take what was available. At that time Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon was of enormous help. There Murray describes the passion and power of Spurgeon’s preaching. Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students was helpful at one stage, as was W. E. Sangster. I was a student at Seminary when Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers was published. Today I think Sam Logan’s The Preacher and Preaching is very helpful.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

We have developed an intern (Trainee) programme to specifically address this issue. The folks who come have typically finished university or have been in the workplace for a few years and want to ‘test the waters’ as far as Christian service in concerned (they come for one or two years). They are given training in Bible handling skills and theology with some church history as well as ministry experience in the church. My hope is that some will be called to full time word ministry (and this has happened with some proceeding the theological seminary); others I hope will want to be godly elders in local churches, well equipped to support biblical ministries over the long term; while others will develop word ministry to women in the churches at home or overseas.

Previously
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham

ps. Look out next week for Vaughan Roberts on Ten Questions.